Homecoming: Barkley returns to cheer on sister at EPC meet
New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley (26) runs against San Francisco 49ers defensive back Jimmie Ward (20) during the first half of an NFL football game in Santa Clara, Calif., Monday, Nov. 12, 2018. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)
Saquon Barkley might be a star in the Big Apple. But he hasn’t forgotten his roots.
Barkley’s commitment to his family and community has been evident throughout his rise to prominence as one of the most popular players during his time at Penn State, and now the New York Giants.
The night Barkley was drafted No. 2 overall, he had former teammates, friends, coaches and administrators on hand while wearing a tuxedo with a Whitehall logo inside, something he proudly displayed on social media. Barkley continued to show that support for those around him on Wednesday, when he returned to Whitehall High School to cheer on sister Aliyah in the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference Track and Field Championships.
“I’m just happy for her, because the year before she didn’t even make it to leagues,” said Barkley, who adorned his sister’s winning 400-meter relay team with gold medals. “She worked hard … and got here, so I believe that if she keeps working hard, the sky can be the limit for her.”
It wasn’t long ago that Barkley was competing in the EPC meet for Whitehall.
Coming off his first NFL season, one that included NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors, Barkley returned to his alma mater with more fanfare than in the past. Barkley was happy to oblige anyone seeking an autograph or looking for a picture.
“It’s changed so much,” Barkley said of his newfound fame. “I grew up so much, I learned how to become more of a man, and I’m still learning that. I became a father.
“I’ve been put in a position where I’m able to represent my family, represent Whitehall, my town, and represent my high school and my old teammates, the old players. It’s everything that you pray for to be in that position, where you go from a league champion here to holding a rookie of the year trophy.
“It’s crazy to think of, but hopefully there’s more to come.”
Barkley’s become a household name well beyond his old stomping grounds. Just days earlier, he was posing for pictures with Tom Brady, Julian Edelman and Odell Beckham Jr. at the Met Gala.
But it was Barkley who was the center of attention Wednesday, an opportunity he welcomed, almost as a way of paying it forward.
“I see them come up a little nervous, a little shy to ask me for a picture,” Barkley said. “But there’s nothing to be shy about. I was just in their position a couple years ago. I don’t mind taking pictures, I don’t mind having a conversation, because you’re put in a position to have an impact on people, especially the youth, and why not use that.
“Hard work means everything to me, that’s what I’m big on. Hopefully I can be, I don’t want to say a role model, because I’d never want to just be someone’s role model. But kind of footsteps that you can follow in to show that you can do whatever you want. If you have hard work, you believe in yourself, a lot of great things can happen to you.”
Many view Barkley as the face of a franchise in New York and one of the next big things in the league. While he most certainly appears to be well on his way to achieving that status, Barkley is still simply just trying to get better both on and off the field, a process that will likely never stop.
“I was never raised on believing in having a role model,” Barkley said. “My father and my mom never really let me live that way, or think that way, because when you have role models, you want to be like somebody, and why you’d never want to be the next someone; you want to be the next you, the next version of yourself.
“That’s why I never say role model, because I’m not perfect, and I’m not the best at this, and I’m not the best at that. There’s so much more room for me to grow. So why would I want a kid to just be exactly like me, when he could be, or she could be, way better than me.”
For now, Barkley was just happy to come back and share his experiences with the people that mean the most to him, even if it’s just for one day.
“It means everything,” said Barkley. “It’s cool just to come back home, and see familiar faces. Even though I’m kind of right up 95, and not that far (away), it’s hard for me to come home; I wish I could come home way more. But I can’t, with the lifestyle that I have, the work I do, the work I put in.
“But to be able to see her (Aliyah) here … I just want her to know that I’m here, and that I love her, and support her. Even though there might be more records and people want to take photos of me, the only reason I’m here is for her.”